Assad's visit to UAE marks Syria's return to regional role despite U.S. opposition

(Xinhua) 09:59, March 20, 2022

DAMASCUS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The Friday visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), his first diplomatic trip to an Arab country since 2011, marks the beginning of Syria's return to its regional role despite the U.S. opposition since its suspension from the Arab League in 2011 after the outbreak of a civil war in the country, experts said.

During his visit, Assad met Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, among other senior UAE leaders, according to media reports.

Calling Syria a fundamental pillar of Arab security, the Abu Dhabi crown prince said the UAE is keen to strengthen cooperation with Syria to achieve the aspirations of the brotherly Syrian people toward stability and development, the UAE official WAM news agency reported.

Taken as a surprise, Assad's one-day visit to the UAE, once a backer of the insurgency against the Assad government, had been planned a long time ago and comes as the latest sign of warming ties between the two countries after the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018 and sent its foreign minister to visit Syria in late 2021.

Hussam Shuaib, a Syrian political expert, told Xinhua that the UAE provides Syria the gateway back to the Arab League and its role in the Arab world.

"It's without a doubt that the political significance of this visit would reflect positively not only on bilateral ties but on the Syrian-Arab relations in general," Shuaib said.

The visit also implies trade opportunities from the Arab world for Syria to fight economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its Western allies, according to the Syrian expert.

"As a result of the economic situation and ongoing conflicts, Syria ... also needs cooperation on the economic level, and there should be coordination and reopening as well for bilateral trade in goods," he explained.

The UAE itself is interested in thawing ties with Syria "because the UAE needs to get rid of the Yemeni quagmire, and so is Saudi Arabia. Both apparently want to rearrange political relations with Iran, to which Syria is a close ally," Shuaib noted.

Nonetheless, Syria's reintegration into the Arab world could still be bumpy enough, especially amid the U.S. hindrance.

In a statement responding to Assad's visit to the UAE, the U.S. State Department said it was "profoundly disappointed and troubled" by what it called an apparent attempt to legitimize Assad.

"America today is not at its best in front of new changes in the world," said Shuaib, adding the remarks reflect a "state of disappointment" by Washington about the positive change in the Arab attitude toward Syria.

"If we follow the American policy over all the past decades, we will see that it is based externally on creating chaos in the world and stirring sectarian, religious, and ethnic conflicts," he said.

For Emad Salem, also a political expert, the visit comes at the right time and will restore the unity of the Arab position despite the U.S. dissatisfaction with the change.

"The Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have begun to look at the future of relations with Washington, and relations with other countries of the world from the perspective of their interests," he concluded. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Bianji)


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